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Taxes and cake

by BAR Editorial Board

The Republicans are intent on screwing over blue states. Led by President Donald Trump, conservatives are closer than ever to passing a tax reform package that will be devastating to California and other coastal states. We already pay more in taxes than red states, and the plans that have passed the House and Senate do away with state and local tax deductions. This will have a profound impact on homeowners, including LGBT families, who could see their taxes increase by thousands of dollars. "This bill will divide the blue states from the red, the Democrats from the Republicans. It is evil in the extreme," Governor Jerry Brown said in a call with reporters Monday. He was joined by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy.

In addition to tax pain for families, the Republican plan will also hurt governments' ability to raise taxes. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, state and local governments have been able to "sell" tax increases by pointing out that they are deductible on federal returns. No more. And San Francisco is a city that loves to tax itself to pay for a variety of services. It remains to be seen whether that trend will continue.

Tax experts told the New York Times that the Senate and House plans' capping of mortgage deductions could make buying a home in the Golden State more difficult.

"It could have spiraling consequences - the economy, the real estate market, revenues to local governments - it goes further and further into things where it could have a negative impact," Gonzalo Freixes, a tax expert at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, told the paper.

But it's not just property owners who will be squeezed. As we pointed out in this week's online Gays Across America column, Equality California has serious concerns with the tax overhaul. Executive Director Rick Zbur said in an email blast that it "would benefit the top 1 percent of Americans and corporations at the expense of LGBTQ people, people living with HIV and AIDS, working families, students, and low-income people."

The tax plan includes "deep, across-the-board spending cuts" on programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or food stamps), Medicare and Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income for people who are living with HIV/AIDS and others, said Zbur.

The proposal also includes repealing the mandate that every individual have health insurance, a key component of the Affordable Care Act. Zbur said that undoing the mandate "would lead to an estimated 13 million people dropping from ACA coverage, and drastic spikes in insurance premiums."

The House and Senate are currently reconciling the two bills; one version must be approved to make it to Trump's desk. But from all accounts, it's going to be painful for a lot of people, while corporations and the wealthy will see their taxes drop. Trump is wrong when he says it's a middle-class tax cut, at least for California. The middle class here, already struggling with high housing costs and stagnant wages (in many cases) will feel real pain.

This is just another reason why the seven California congressional Republicans in districts won by Hillary Clinton last year need to be defeated in the 2018 midterms.

Let them (not) order cake
Tuesday's oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is the latest effort by conservatives to chip away at laws that protect minorities, including LGBTs. In this case, a gay couple went to Jack Phillips' bakery to order a wedding cake for their reception. Phillips refused their request, and the couple sought relief through state anti-discrimination laws and were successful. Phillips had appealed the civil rights commission's ruling and finally made it to the Supreme Court.

Early reports coming after the session don't bode well for LGBTs. Some legal observers predict a narrow ruling that would preserve Phillips' right to discriminate if he custom creates a cake, but he would have to sell existing cakes to anyone. That's probably the best outcome the LGBT community could hope for, and even it would send a deeply troubling message that we are not free from discrimination.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the fifth vote in many of the court's LGBT rights victories, "seemed troubled," Politico reported, by Colorado officials' treatment of Phillips, which included ordering him and his staff to undergo "remedial training." But Kennedy also seemed concerned about same-sex couples who might be denied services. The liberal online site ThinkProgress went further, stating that LGBT rights had "a horrible day" at the Supreme Court and predicted Kennedy would side with Phillips.

Another disturbing development in LGBT rights occurred Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case out of Texas where that state's Supreme Court has ruled that the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide does not fully address marriage benefits. The city of Houston had requested high court review in Turner v. Pidgeon after the state Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized marriage benefits. The state high court said that Obergefell does not require that "states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons."

This is a major challenge to Obergefell, which Justice Neil Gorsuch said was "settled law" during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders pointed out that the case is far from over, and returns to the Texas trial court for a final decision. The groups said it was premature to petition the Supreme Court to hear it, since there hasn't been a final judgment yet. But we are on notice that marriage equality is increasingly under attack in the courts, which is another example of how basic equality is under assault now that Trump is president.


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